Friday, June 29, 2012

Small-Batch Baking: Chocolate Toffee Cookies

I have done a terrible job of taking pictures this week. I think the heat has affected my brain, and as much as I want to try new recipes, I just don't want to spend a lot of time in the hot kitchen! I tried a second recipe from Small-Batch Baking. I wanted to make cookies, so I went through the recipes to see what I could make without a trip to the store. I wanted to make oatmeal cookies, and there are a few types in the book, but when I went to the pantry - no dice. So back to the book. We did have toffee chips, and part of a giant bar of dark chocolate that was a gift from one of my students, so I picked the chocolate toffee cookies.

These cookies came together fast, but they did take two bowls - one for melting the chocolate, and one for mixing up the cookies. I skipped the pre-mixing of the dry ingredients, as that would have involved a third bowl.

4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 72% dark from Trader Joe's)
2 t. butter
2 T. AP flour
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. + 3 T. sugar
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla extract (I also added a drop of almond emulsion)
1 1/2 chocolate covered toffee bars (I used ~4 T. of the plain Heath Bits o' Brickle)

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave, stirring until smooth. Let the chocolate cool. Beat the egg well with a hand mixer and add the sugar, beating on high until the mixture is thick and pale and has increased in volume. Mix in the chocolate mixture until well blended. Sprinkle the flour and baking powder over the chocolate-egg mixture and stir until blended. Fold in the toffee bits. Cover the dough and refrigerate until firm. Divide the dough into 6 cookies, and place them on a parchment or sil-pat covered cookie sheet. Use a spatula to flatten them to ~3/4 in. Bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes until the tops begin to crack. Remove from the oven and transfer the parchment or sil-pat to a cooking rack.

The dough for these cookies resembles brownie batter. The baked cookies have a "shell" with a chewy middle, slightly reminiscent of French macarons. I would recommend them with a cold glass of milk.

Recipe Review: Three Cheese Chicken Alfredo Bake

Yesterday, we made the three cheese chicken alfredo bake that I found on Plain Chicken. It was really good. We halved it and still had 5 large servings. The original recipe was from Southern Living and can be found here. I was in a hurry last night to get dinner on the table, so unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures, but the pictures from My Recipes and Plain Chicken are accurate.

We made a few very minor adjustments. I used penne instead of the ziti, and cooked it according to the al dente package directions. I think any kind of stabby pasta would work. I refer to pasta as stabby pasta or twirly pasta, because I think that the shapes are strictly for presentation or ease of eating.

I beat one egg (because I halved the recipe), and then added the ricotta, sour cream, alfredo sauce, and parmesan, and mixed until well blended. I used low fat ricotta and reduced fat sour cream. I have never made the full fat recipe, so I can't compare, but I sure didn't miss it. I added about 1 tsp. of fresh ground black pepper, because we both like lots of black pepper on our creamy pastas. I wish I had added more.

I left out the garlic and parsley. The alfredo sauce we used smelled plenty garlicky to me, and I didn't have any parsley on hand.  I mixed in some chopped chicken that I marinated in Italian seasonings and grilled earlier in the week, then I turned the mixture out into an eight-by-eight baker sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, sprinkled the top with mozzarella, and baked it at 350 for 30 minutes. The top wasn't very browned, so I turned on the broiler and set the timer for 3 minutes. It was perfect! We both really enjoyed this dish.

Here are the proportions for a half batch (and suggestions for additions), in case you want to make this dish:
1/2 lb. (stabby) pasta (penne, bow-ties, elbow, ziti)
1 egg, lightly beaten
10 oz. refrigerator alfredo sauce
7-8 oz. low fat ricotta cheese
4 oz. reduced fat sour cream
~2 T. parmesan cheese
~1 c. chopped, cooked chicken
1 t. fresh ground pepper, or more to taste

Suggested additions to make a one dish meal:
10 oz. package of frozen broccoli (place in colander and drain pasta on top of broccoli to melt ice)
10-12 oz. package of frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
10-12 oz. package of spring vegetables blend (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots)
2-4 julienned zucchini or yellow (crooked neck) squash

We served this with a spinach salad. To one pack of baby spinach, we added a few diced nectarines and ~1/4-1/2 c. chopped pecans. We dressed it with poppy seed dressing. This salad can be adapted for whatever fruits are in season, nectaries, strawberries, blue berries, or a combination, and nuts of choice, or can be made with canned mandarin oranges in the winter.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Meal Plan Monday #3

This week, we are relying on some favorites and incorporating a few new things, too. We have leftover dry rub from last week's ribs, so I am going to try it on a chicken. I think we'll be using the beer can method. And we'll be trying out another recipe from Plain Chicken, which we'll be halving since there are only two of us.

Sunday: Sizzling Fish with Rice and Creamed Spinach

Monday: Seared Steak with Salad

Tuesday: Lo Mein (made with rice stick) with Chicken and Vegetables

Wednesday: Baked Chicken (dry rubbed) with Black-Eyed Peas and Cornbread

Thursday: Three Cheese Chicken Alfredo Bake with Spinach Salad

Friday: Date Night! (Darren's Pick)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thai Green Curry

We are big fans of Thai food. Green curry used to be my all time favorite until I had panang curry, and now it's a toss up. I went to Thailand several years ago. It was fantastic - the people, the food, the sights, everything!

I have never had food like that in Thailand since coming back, but I still love the flavors. We've been working at curry for a few months now, and have come up with a good red curry recipe, but our green curry was lacking. That is until our last pot luck. A friend brought some delicious green curry, and gave me the recipe. I have tweaked it a bit to our tastes, and we are happy with the results.

We eat our curries with either Jasmine rice or rice stick cooked according to the package directions. If using whole boneless breasts, partially frozen breasts are easy to slice very thin like they have at the restaurants. I am using tenders this week, because I bought the family pack and also used it for the chicken nuggets on Monday, so I just cut those into small chunks.

The mandoline is great for slicing the vegetables evenly. I like to cut everything up and then add the different ingredients as I go.

I start with the onions and cook those for a few minutes in a little oil before adding the curry paste. I don't like raw onions, so I make sure they get nice and done. As a bonus, cooking them a bit first brings out the sweetness of the onions.

We use Mae Ploy curry paste. We have tried Thai Kitchen, but it isn't as flavorful (see notes in the printable). We went to the Lee Lee Supermarket a couple of weeks ago and stocked up on curry paste, coconut milk, rice stick, chili oil, Thai iced tea mix, and some other treats. It is a bit of a drive, but we made an afternoon of it after doing some house hunting. We covered every aisle of the market and had boba drinks after at Boba Tea House.

Add the curry paste to the onions and cook until fragrant, just a few minutes.

Then add the chicken and half of the coconut milk. Cook until the chicken begins to turn white.

Add the sliced vegetables and the remaining coconut milk, and cook until almost tender.

Add bamboo shoots (if using), brown sugar, fish sauce, and chili-garlic sauce, if desired. Cook until bamboo shoots are tender. Taste and add salt, fish sauce, sugar, chili-garlic, as desired.

Serve over rice or rice stick.

Feel free to substitute any type of curry paste you prefer. Also omit the chili-garlic sauce if you like to keep things milder. If you try this out, let us know how it goes! We recommend serving with Thai iced tea for a special treat.

Snap Shot Saturday

I got to chaperone the VPA Senior Trip to DC back in March. Here are some pictures from the trip.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cast Iron Seared Steaks

This recipe is LONG over due, as the two sets of pictures I have are from November and December of 2011. School was just too hectic then to get much blogging done. Hopefully the coming year will be a little calmer, since it will be my second year teaching the same classes at the same school. We'll see, but in the mean time, I'm catching up on some things I've wanted to post for a while.

This is another recipe of ours that comes courtesy of Alton Brown. In case you don't watch the food network, he is pretty awesome.

The original recipe calls for rib eye steak, but we have used filet, strip, and T-bone all with great results.  I think the most important part is the thickness of the steak. You definitely want it to be 1 1/2"-2" thick.

Get your steak(s) out of the refrigerator and let them come up to room temperature. Also turn on the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and place a dry cast iron skillet in the oven to heat.

Once the steaks have come up to temperature, coat each with a layer of oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. 
Turn a burner onto high and let it heat for a few minutes.
Remove the skillet from the oven, place it on the burner, and sear the steaks for 30 seconds per side. Use tongs to flip them.

Place the skillet in the oven and cook 2-4 minutes per side, depending on how well done you like your steak. About 2 minutes per side will give you a medium-rare steak, and 3-4 minutes will give you a medium steak.

When done, remove the steaks from the skillet and place them on a plate. Cover them with tented foil and let them rest for a few minutes.
Serve them up with desired side dishes. I recommend salad or other green vegetable and some sort of potato dish.

This method of cooking steak is easy and delicious. I have also adapted it for chicken and pork chops with equally good results. Chicken especially needs to be well oiled, and requires about 4-6 minutes per side to ensure doneness. I sometimes switch our regular cast iron skillet for one with a grill pan bottom.